'Is it acceptable to bitch about other women?'

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Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's new column answering your questions on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. Send your dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand. 

This week's question:

"Everyone bitches about other people - even feminists, surely. Does that make it OK?"

Feminist Amy Everett says:

My brain shouts various answers in the direction of this question. Having grown up at an all-girls school (the birthplace of bitchiness), I can vouch it’s a toxic habit, but a tough one to shake.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never bitched about anyone - and so would you. A snide comment here, a wry observation there. Talking behind people’s backs is human nature (the word ‘gossip’ dates back to the 12th Century, for crying out loud).

Sometimes it makes you feel good, sometimes it’s chased with a pang of guilt, as a colleague giggles by the toaster or laughter rings around your group of friends. What’s the common denominator in both cases?

They’re probably looking around them before joining in, or whispering their reply - because they know the same thing you do. Bitching isn’t nice and we shouldn’t do it.

To be heard joining in, or worse, by the subject of the bitching, is the ultimate social faux pas (remember when you accidentally sent that mean text TO the person you were bitching about? The SHAME). And why? Because we know it’s unconstructive, punitive or just plain nasty - but we do it anyway, because *god* does it feel good.

That delicious, fleeting moment of revenge (‘she bitched about me first’), old habit (‘it’s fine, we’ve been friends for years’), relief (‘I love her to bits, but this has to be said…’), or just plain fun (‘OMG, that’s so true’) is the driver for bitchiness.

But I’d argue it’s bound up in more than that - it gives you a chance to push yourself up by tearing someone down a peg or two. That’s what bitching is about, really; making yourself feel better.

We think moaning about a slow colleague will ensure our boss knows it’s not our fault when the project is finished late. Lamenting how silly our friends are for going back to their cheating partners will prove we’d never be so naive.

We need an outlet for our concerns and frustrations, so we allow the angry, wound up voice in our head to escape and make friends with some other bitchy voices. 

Most men might do this for five minutes, feel better, then move on - but for women it's somehow a more acceptable, even fun group activity. 

And it's ironic that 'feminists' are often among the culprits of this uniquely female propensity for bitching. 

Working in women’s magazines, I’ve seen firsthand the work of colleagues attacked with unnecessary vitriol, aggression and downright bitchiness.

Online, it’s even worse. Twitter’s like a masked ball, full of shouty people with a cocktail in one hand, dagger in the other - plenty of opinions, plenty of screens to hide behind. The conversation’s cathartic but those voices create ongoing, unhelpful discourse that continues longer than it should. And we all know the feminist blogs and websites where the focus lies on tearing down other women. Not very sisterly, is it?

Katie Hopkins, loathe as I am to mention her, has made a career out of bitching. As Jameela Jamil generously noted in a blog post this week, something terrible must have happened in Hopkins’ life to turn her into such a monster. She contends this woman has been bullied (check out the comments section on anything she writes) and is protecting herself the only way she knows how - by trolling the shit out of everyone else. When she’s done bitching about fatties, feminists, immigrants, gingers and Muslims, she still goes home hated, a pawn in the saddest game on the planet.

We tell the children in our lives to ignore the bullies and the gossips, repeat the ubiquitous phrase ‘don’t feed the trolls’. Hopkins feasts on headlines, and she doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.

The ugly truth is that we’ve all got a troll living inside us, but we can choose to keep them fed and watered or let them rot under a bridge where they belong.

I'm not saying we should never bitch again, because we're human after all - but we should, as feminists, try our hardest to hold back comments that have no positive affect on the situation. 

Get a diary, call a meeting with your boss, cut energy-sucking friends out of your life - hell, use a punchbag - just find an outlet for your frustrations that doesn’t create more negativity.

Me? I might get a dog. I hear those bitches are good listeners.

What do you think? As feminists, should we strive to avoid bitching altogether? Or is it the glue that unites women as much as it divides them? And what about feminists who attack other women in the name of feminism? Scroll down to join the debate in the comments section, below. 

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Stylist Team